Blaze claims four homes on South Maple Street

By on March 31, 2016
Flames, which fully engulfed the upper apartment of 21 S. Maple St., quickly spread to properties on the left and right on March 24.

Flames, which fully engulfed the upper apartment of 21 S. Maple St., quickly spread to properties on the left and right on March 24. Photo by Les Martzall

‘We’re all grateful we got out alive,’ victim says

The South Maple Street families affected by a fast-moving fire March 24 are slowly getting their lives back together this week.

The fire displaced six families from apartments in a pair of duplexes where the owners of the four properties lived — among the units between 21-23 and 17-19 South Maple Street

“You can’t replace a life,” said Helen Honyara, who had lost just about everything in the fire that destroyed the twin properties she owned at 17 and 19 S. Maple Street.

“We’re all grateful we got out alive,” she said.

Honyara, who is living with her daughter in Elizabeth Township, learned that all of the affected properties will be demolished.

The fire left her temporarily unable to communicate with friends, relatives and business contacts. Her cell phone that contained her phone book was destroyed.

“They did call me today (Tuesday) to tell me they did recover what was left of my purse,” Honyara said, while talking on a new cell phone.

In the purse was some cash, a safe-deposit key, credit and ID cards including her driver’s license, health insurance, Social Security and car keys.

“I’m very happy about that, everything was in my purse,” she said. “We’ll try the car keys, but I don’t know if it will work in my car because they were melted and wet.”

The wind-blown fire injured a pair of firefighter who lived on the block. They responded to the flames which ignited when an occupant of 21 S. Maple St. discarded cigarettes in a plastic container on a side porch, Pioneer Fire Chief Allen Pettyjohn said.

Multiple firefighters on hoselines work to bring the house fire at 21 South Maple Street in Ephrata Borough under control on Thursday, March 24, 2016. KIRK NEIDERMYER | LNP Correspondent Photographer

Multiple firefighters on hoselines work to bring the house fire at 21 South Maple Street in Ephrata Borough under control on Thursday, March 24, 2016. KIRK NEIDERMYER | LNP Correspondent Photographer

One of the firefighters, 28-year-old Derek Vallery, suffered minor burns on his neck and shoulder. He was treated at Ephrata Community Hospital and released.

Another Maple Street firefighter who helped Vallery out of the burning building was treated briefly by medical personnel at the scene for overexertion, Pettyjohn said.

The fire caused power lines to fall outside the homes, and firefighters had to avoid them before the borough turned off power to the area. The biggest concern was a nearby 7,500-volt power line. Shutting off that line caused a “fair amount” of the borough to lose power for about two hours, Pettyjohn said. Some residents got electricity back by 2 a.m. and the rest had it restored by 3:30 a.m.

On Tuesday, Chuck and Pam Malkemes, who own the 21 and 23 S. Maple St. duplexes, gauged the damage of the properties which had orange “condemned” signs affixed to the front porches.

Pam said Honyara, who has lived at 19 S. Maple St. for 53 years, banged on the couple’s door at 23 S. Maple Street to warn of the fire.

All three then attempted to alert “Andy,” the tenant in the upper apartment where the fire started.

Honyara heard crackling noises and from her dining room immediately saw the doorway to the top apartment at 21 S. Maple St. fully engulfed in flames.

“She came over and pounded on my door and said ‘your house is on fire.’ I ran upstairs to tell my husband and I said we had to get Andy out,” Pam Malkemes said. “We banged on his window hoping he would hear us and come through the window. He is a sound sleeper but woke up so startled that he came out right through the flames.”

One of the firefighters, 28-year-old Derek Vallery, suffered minor burns on his neck and shoulder. He was treated at Ephrata Community Hospital and released.

Photo by Kirk Neidermyer
One of the firefighters, 28-year-old Derek Vallery, suffered minor burns on his neck and shoulder. He was treated at Ephrata Community Hospital and released.

Another tenant, Arlene, who’s in her late 80s, escaped the fire from her bottom-unit apartment at 21 S. Maple St. Her son picked her up after driving from Maryland. Pam Malkemes said Arlene had kept her important papers in a metal box that was however destroyed in the fire.

Malkemes said Andy, who is living with family in Reinholds, may have been burned fleeing the flames.

She praised the firefighters, police and all of the outpouring of concern from the Ephrata community, especially Heidi White, who opened her home for those affected on the night of the fire.

The Malkemes’ dog, Mini, an 8-year-old Rottweiler-mix, had her paws burned, she said. Mini has not been eating well while recuperating at Conestoga Animal Hospital in Hinkletown.

LNP staff writer Ryan Robinson contributed to this story.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455

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